Who wants to listen to that anymore? My father who is 72 doesn't even listen to that garbage, as he prefers to move on and progress, not stay in the same spot!
By Michael E. Miller
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Rodríguez didn't bow out of the communications game, though. In 1989, he founded Telemiami, a cable TV station that echoes his conservative agenda on the radio. He also bought Cadena Azul. Then, along with two investors, he purchased WWFE in 1993 from Milian for $2.7 million. Milian's company had been forced into bankruptcy and his station was on the verge of being shuttered. Rodríguez changed the name from Radio Fe to La Poderosa.
He says he made the move not to make money, but because his competitors had lost their revolutionary zeal. "Media outlets exist to educate the public," he says. "At the time, there was a lot of misinformation and lack of objectivity going on."
Ever since he dived into the world of Cuban radio, Rodríguez has lived firsthand the battle over how far to go on-air.
In 1998, for instance, radio host Tomás García-Fuste claimed Rodríguez canceled his morning show because he refused to promote a rally at the Orange Bowl against a proposed human rights ordinance for gays organized by a Christian church. Rodríguez, who was opposed to the measure, actually interrupted García-Fuste 's show to encourage listeners to attend the anti-gay event.
(Rodríguez, though, claims he dropped García-Fuste because he refused do his show inside La Poderosa's studio, preferring to air from Telemiami.)
Then, in 2001, Rodríguez kicked Alberto Milian, Emilio's son, off the WWFE program that his father started, called Habla el Pueblo (The Town Speaks). Alberto told the Miami Herald that Rodríguez silenced him because he was denouncing politicians such as then-County Commissioner Miriam Alonso and then-Miami City Commissioner Angel Gonzalez. Liz Balmaseda, then a Herald columnist, wrote that Rodríguez was "stuck in 1976" and that he helped fuel all the "political cliches of [a] Cuban exile Miami."
Rodríguez counters that Milian's cancellation was a programming decision not influenced by politics.
Three years later, though, Rodríguez was back in the news when journalist Roberto Rodríguez Tejera resigned as La Poderosa's programming director and general manager. On April 14, 2004, Rodríguez Tejera and a cohost criticized President George W. Bush following the release of the 9/11 investigative report. Rodríguez stormed into the studio to defend Dubya, Rodríguez Tejera says.
"He wouldn't let my cohost talk," he says. "He told us if we didn't like it, we could leave. When I tried to intervene, Jorge disrespected me as well."
La Poderosa's owner says Rodríguez Tejera left of his own accord and denies censoring his views.
Either way, it's clear that the kind of boisterous, opinionated management Rodríguez favors has fallen out of practice at his chief competitors, which began moving into corporate ownership in 2004.
That's when Univision bought Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., which owned both WQBA and Mambí. Soon after, the network began to change both stations. For example, Univision cut off the practice of commentators getting paid by political campaigns; accepting money from any candidate was prohibited and grounds for firing.
Radio and TV Martí, the U.S. government-funded stations that broadcast news exclusively to Cuba, have also been adrift recently. For the past decade, members of Congress have criticized it as a drain on taxpayers. Last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Martí, had failed to provide sufficient information to Congress about its cost and audience in Cuba. Still, the station survived last year's budget with $30 million in appropriations.
Whatever the reasons, it's clear that both WQBA and Mambí have been losing listeners over the past decade.
In the fall 2001 Arbitron report, La Poderosa came in 28th, while Mambí was sixth out of 35 local stations. La Cubanisima was 22nd. According to Arbitron's June 2012 report, Mambí has dropped to 15th, while La Poderosa has risen to 25th. Between June and July, WQBA lost 23,900 weekly listeners in the wake of Univision's rebranding.
Rodríguez believes his station, whose numbers remained steady during that period, picked up many of the WQBA defectors. "Many listeners are upset over the changes," he says. "I believe people want a radio station that reflects the current reality of the community."
Inside a dusty back office of a storefront on West Flagler Street, Max Lesnik is preparing for his one-hour program on his website, Radio-Miami.com. The room is equipped with three desktop computers manned by a trio of radio engineers. The walls are the yang to the anti-Castro décor at La Poderosa: a photo of a beaming pre-cancer-stricken Hugo Chávez, a black-and-white image of Fidel, and a charcoal drawing of Che Guevara.
Lesnik walks into a closet that has been converted into a recording room. There is space only for a chair and a microphone. Until last year, he broadcast his one-hour show at a Little Haiti station called Union Radio. But when ESPN Deportes bought its signal, Lesnik decided the best way to reach his audience was to upload his broadcast online.
"I don't know what ratings we are getting because I don't have the money to pay to keep track of it," Lesnik says.